Conservatives are forever recommending that people pull themselves up by their bootstraps. I did it! You could too, if you weren’t so lazy.
Before we get into that, I would like to note that the world is well on its way to being a permanent plutocratic two-class system not unlike that seen in the centuries of feudalism. That is, a tiny extremely wealthy elite, and the rest of us. This is coming about because of the inherent flaws of capitalism, the most egregious of which is unlimited growth of great wealth, which also allows capitalists to literally control government and everything else. Bootstrapping works poorly in such circumstances.
There are several reasons bootstrapping is so hard, aside from the factors that allow me as a white guy to do it, but not you because you are the wrong color. Those who think it’s a panacea for escaping poverty think anyone can do it just by working hard, despite the evidence of generations of hard work whose only reward has been endless poverty.
To bootstrap, you are a David, fighting a dozen Goliaths much more powerful than you. The fault is in the system, not individual motivation, and that’s before we get to questions of race. Bootstrapping as a racial question is nothing more than dog-whistle racism intended to prove that African-Americans are inferior and lazy.
Most individuals can’t escape
The conventional wisdom says to overcome Goliath and get a good job, get an education, because a BA is the minimum requirement for the best jobs (unless you are the governor of Wisconsin). But the reason for low levels of employment, and pay that has not kept up, is not education. The unemployed American public has the highest level of education ever, and too many of the new graduates are baristas. In fact, the only shortages have been for skilled labor, not for the college educated.
I deny that the entire purpose of education is to prepare for the workforce anyway. This is in sharp contrast to what Wisconsin’s Governor Walker—who failed to graduate from college—believes. Preparing for work is part of the goal, but a smaller part than we usually realize. The true value of higher education lies in critical thinking and a broad understanding of the world, and these things make you a valuable employee. Red state ignoramuses—some of whom are in Congress—whose archaic beliefs defy reason demonstrate that lack of thinking skills does not exactly lead to an informed electorate. Remember “Get your government hands off of my Medicare”? (And if they fail to be an informed electorate, imagine the damage they do as legislators.)
A college degree
no longer guarantees
Bootstrapping is recommended for the purpose of employment, but it would be for employment as a subject of the capitalist system. Do what we say, and we will give you a job. What we don’t say is that the pay for this job has barely kept up with inflation for 40 years, despite the enormous increase we have seen in productivity over that period. No, that money has all been reserved for capitalists. So sorry, you are not one of them.
Yet the idea of bootstrapping is a valuable one. It’s just that we must re-define what the term means. What bootstrapping must come to mean is for the entire class of those being screwed-over by the capitalist system to construct their own system that more reliably rewards them for the things that capitalism fails to do. That is, non-capitalists must embrace the idea of a very large community of people who are willing to help and support each other in ways we have only begun to define.
What bootstrapping must mean is for
those being screwed-over by capitalism
to construct their own system.
I have several times suggested ways this might occur. The most valuable of these ways is the worker-owned enterprise. In contrast to the usual capitalist enterprise, in which the entire profit of the business goes to the rich capitalists who own it, the worker-owned enterprise is entirely owned by the workers themselves. When there is profit to be paid, it is divided evenly among the worker-owners.
I suggest that a new type of workers group be formed. This would be unlike the historical labor union, which was valuable to its members only so long as its membership was large enough to be a threat to capitalist management. Rather, I suggest a much larger type of organization capable of functioning completely outside the system of capitalism, and centered on the idea of cooperation.
A useful model is Nextdoor, an online group that can be useful to the neighborhood in various ways: by trading household items, by recommending workers, stores, or doctors, by voicing civic concerns, by sharing skills, or by warning about potential criminal problems, for example.
I suggest that a new type of
workers’ group be formed.
The age of the internet is ideally suited for such a purpose, because people don’t have to live in the same place to help each other.
An important possibility for a very large group is health care. The goal here is also to escape the capitalist trap. In today’s insurance-driven system nearly one of every three dollars is paid to capitalist insurance companies, which provide absolutely no health care. When this burden is eliminated, costs drop dramatically. They drop further when all doctors are salaried. Once a critical mass is achieved, something akin to national health care could equal the superior European systems, at far less than we pay now. This may be important if Republicans continue to deny us the benefits of a national plan.
There must be millions of possibilities for exchange of skills and materials. There are also many possibilities for things like financial advice, banking, local currency, etc. As time passes, it will become more apparent where the best options lie. It would seem to me that practically any arrangement that escapes the inherent greed of capitalism is a step in the right direction.